The Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality plans to unveil a program next month to guide young people through the apartment-rental process and provide them with low-cost legal advice on housing matters.
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The services will be offered in Hebrew and English at the city’s young adult center, Mazeh 9. There, a staff of volunteers will help English-speaking immigrants and other first-time renters review apartment listings on Hebrew-language websites; provide them with standard rental contracts, as well as information about potential tax discounts, and connect them with real estate lawyers to review contracts or advise on landlord-tenant disputes.
“We’re building this project from the ground up based on the awareness of the challenges that new immigrants, and internationals in general, have with the issue of housing in Tel Aviv,” said Michael Vole, who oversees the city’s young adults unit.
All of these services will be provided free of charge, except the one-on-one consultations with lawyers, which will be subsidized by the city and amount to about NIS 70 per visit, Vole said. In addition, free, basic legal advice will be dispensed on the Mazeh 9 Facebook page.
The program will also include “smart renting” workshops on topics such as home maintenance, cheap design ideas and energy efficiency. An English-language brochure, “Living in Tel Aviv-Yafo,” is available now and includes tips about where to look for an apartment and what to ask a landlord before signing a contract, as well as a glossary of useful Hebrew terms.
The shifting demographics of Tel Aviv – approximately 140,000 young people (ages 18 to 35) live in the city, which is Israel’s youngest – and the cutthroat real estate market created a pressing need for such a program, Vole said.
“We’ve seen this phenomenon where young people, and especially immigrants, have very little knowledge about the market,” he said. “So even if there is space to negotiate with a landlord, people are not aware of what they need to demand.”
Last year, Haaretz described efforts by a small number of lawyers to help immigrants who felt they had been taken advantage of by their landlords. Shiri Malki, one such lawyer who provides pro-bono legal advice to immigrants through the Jewish Agency’s ConnecTLV initiative for young adults, said the rental assistance program “will increase the awareness among immigrants in general about the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ in the area of apartment rentals.”
However, she noted that itdoes not address the core housing issues that can make renting an apartment in Tel Aviv such a hassle.
“I doubt this will have a significant impact on the relationship between landlords and tenants,” she said. “As long as the market is in a situation where demand exceeds supply and there is no regulation, the apartment owners will continue to put draconian clauses in the contract and demand exorbitant prices.”
The city is currently lobbying members of the Knesset to pass legislation that will regulate the housing market and protect renters, Vole said. For now, the focus of the staff at Mazeh 9 is to educate young people on how to be smart renters. (Vole encouraged those who are interested in volunteering at Mazeh 9 to contact him via the center’s Facebook page.)
New immigrants who have experienced housing woes welcomed news of the program, which was developed in partnership with ConnecTLV and TLV Internationals.
“One of the hardest parts of coming here is finding an apartment, so I think having these resources will help immigrants a lot,” said Rachel Hammer, who hails from New Mexico. Hammer is currently suing the company from which she rented a room on Dizengoff Street for withholding her security deposit when she moved out.
Located in the heart of Tel Aviv, Mazeh 9 is a hub for young adults, with designated workspace for social entrepreneurs, galleries for young artists to display their work and public study areas.